WASHINGTON ― A group of progressive lawmakers that includes Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) slammed the Trump administration’s support for the right-wing leaders who have taken power in Bolivia following the ouster of socialist President Evo Morales, saying Friday that the White House’s “dangerously misguided” backing risks creating “a full-blown humanitarian emergency” in the South American nation.
“We are troubled by statements from Administration officials, including President Trump, that welcome these developments in Bolivia that bear the hallmarks of a military coup d’état,” the group of lawmakers said in a letter drafted by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a progressive who has been outspoken on human rights issues in Latin America throughout his career in Congress.
The letter was sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday.
Morales, who was first elected in 2005, resigned on Nov. 10 amid pressure from Bolivia’s armed forces as protests erupted across Bolivia after a disputed October election, in which his opponents accused him of fraud. The Organization of American States, a regional body of governments from across the Americas, said in a preliminary audit that it had found “serious irregularities” in the election. Morales (who says he is the victim of a coup and has fled to Mexico), his supporters, and some independent groups have questioned the evidence behind the OAS findings.
Morales’ decision to seek a fourth term — even after he initially lost a 2016 referendum asking Bolivians to alter constitutional term limits to allow him to do so — and the fraud allegations sparked the protests that led to his resignation. But his departure came two months before his current term would have ended in January. And his ouster paved the way for the rise of right-wing figures ― including Jeanine Áñez, a conservative senator who declared herself interim president ― to power.
President Donald Trump welcomed Morales’ ouster as a “a significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere,” and his administration immediately recognized Áñez’s legitimacy as interim leader.
But since taking power, Áñez and her allies have threatened lawmakers from Morales’ Movement for Socialism party and journalists with prosecution while also unleashing the military, which they exempted from prosecution, to crack down on pro-Morales demonstrations.
Protesters have accused the military of killing at least eight people during a demonstration last week.
“We urge you to consider an immediate change in course and to take action to support democracy and human rights in Bolivia,” the lawmakers wrote. “While there is legitimate debate surrounding Morales’ decision to run for a fourth term, it is simply not acceptable for the U.S. administration to welcome the forced removal of a democratically-elected leader before the end of their mandate.”
“Our government should call for the prompt restoration of constitutional order, and for an immediate end to all persecution and attacks targeting leaders and supporters of Evo Morales and his political party,” they said. “Additionally, we call for the adoption of protective measures for those facing threats.”
Warning that “Bolivia’s escalating crisis threatens to spiral into violent internal conflict,” the progressives argued that the administration’s backing of the current Bolivian leadership “could well contribute to a further breakdown in the rule of law in Bolivia and a full-blown humanitarian emergency, with large migrant outflows.”
“We strongly urge you to revise this approach and support the prompt restoration of constitutional order, dialogue between opposing political factions, fair and inclusive elections and respect for the human and cultural rights of all Bolivians,” they wrote.
Although it was addressed to the Trump administration, the letter also marked the latest effort from progressive lawmakers to set themselves apart from Democratic leadership on foreign policy and human rights issues, particularly in the Americas.
It is simply not acceptable for the U.S. administration to welcome the forced removal of a democratically-elected leader before the end of their mandate. Progressive lawmakers
In March, progressives came out against the Trump administration’s decision to back Venezuelan opposition to socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has become increasingly autocratic and authoritarian as an economic crisis has crippled his country. Millions of people have fled Venezuela, and Trump has aggressively supported efforts to remove Maduro from office by imposing economic sanctions and making thinly veiled threats of military force.
Progressive lawmakers argued in March that Trump’s sanctions and threats of “American military-led regime change” would only “hurt ordinary people” and exacerbate Venezuela’s crises.
Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said at the time that the coordinated effort to challenge the White House even as top Democrats backed Trump’s strategy was a deliberate move to reshape foreign policy conversations within the party.
Khanna was not among the 14 lawmakers who signed the Friday letter about Bolivia. The signatories were Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Debra Haaland (D-N.M.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Jesus “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Alan Lowenthal (D-N.Y.).
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Washington D.C.’s representative to Congress, also signed the letter.
Ocasio-Cortez and Omar have both previously called Morales’ ouster a coup. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Sanders and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard are the only Democratic presidential candidates to have done so.
Pompeo, in a new statement Thursday, reiterated the United States’ support for Áñez’s transitional government and renewed condemnations of Morales and other party officials who Pompeo said were responsible for “egregious irregularities and manipulation of the vote” in October’s elections.
But he also said the United States opposed crackdowns on the press and protesters.
“We support robust press freedoms and peaceful assembly and protest. Violence, repression, and political intimidation have no place in a democracy,” Pompeo said. “We call on all parties to refrain from such violence, to observe the rule of law, and to respect the rights of all citizens to participate in building Bolivia’s future, whatever their views. Security services must respect the rights of peaceful protestors, and the Bolivian authorities must ensure accountability for any violations of the right of citizens.”